High peaks and lush valleys
The national park has high peaks, lush mountain valleys and mountain lakes where you can try your luck at fishing. The emerald green Gjende lake is considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in Norway, and many people visit every year to experience the famous mountain hike over Besseggen.
There are many alpine plants here that grow at record altitudes, and many birds of prey nest on the steep mountain cliffs. The landscape shows traces of ancient hunting and trapping culture, where visitors can find animal pitfall traps and remnants of homesteads. In addition, the area has long traditions of pastoral grazing and mountain farming
Jotunheimen National Park
Aasmund Olavsson Vinje baptized these mountains ‘Jøtunheimen’ in 1862, inspired by the wild landscape and Norse mythology. We see in legends and folk tales how the wild and magnificent scenery of Jotunheimen has been perceived as both enticing and frightening. The jötnars (trolls) live in these mountains. They came out into the daylight and saw the sun, they cracked and turned to stone!
Jøtunheimen later became Jotunheimen, the name we use today for this mighty area, with the highest mountains in Northern Europe and the most famous national park in Norway.
Jotunheimen is located in the transition between eastern and western mountain habitats, which includes distinctive and representative ecosystems and landscapes that have seen very little encroachment on nature. By travelling around the area in a responsible manner, we can prevent damaging this wonderful nature.
Jotunheimen National Park was established in 1980, and covers an area of approximately 1151 km2. The purpose of the national park is to protect a wild, characteristic, beautiful and largely untouched mountain landscape, that includes interesting geological features, animal and plant life, and cultural monuments. Utladalen Protected Landscape lies to the west (314 km2), a lush oasis situated between high peaks and glaciers.
Utladalen Protected Landscape
Utladalen Protected Landscape was established at the same time as Jotunheimen National Park in 1980.
Utladalen, the oasis between the peaks, is characterized by its narrow canyon that has a V-shaped cross-section and a number of U-shaped hanging valleys, all of which lead into the main valley high up on the hillsides. The River Utla is fed by the glaciers in Jotunheimen. Further down the valley, waterfalls flow into Utla from hanging valleys on the western and eastern sides. The highest peaks in the protected landscape are called Stølsnostind and Falketind, stretching all the way up to 2100 meters above sea level.
The primordial pine forest at Vettismorki is a very precious resource. From Vettismorki, the Vettisfossen waterfall plunges 275 meters down into Utladalen valley.
In the lower part of Utladalen, visitors can see what looks like a group of fairy-tale trees. These are pollarded elm trees found in the deciduous forest that are easy to recognize. This area is a rich cultural landscape that holds traces of former mountain farming. Harvesting tree leaves for fodder, haymaking and pastoral grazing have mainly formed the landscape here. There is a wide range of animal and plant life in the short distances between the high mountains and lush valleys.
The Caledonian orogenic belt of mountains stretch the entire length of Norway, from north to south. Part of this mountain range is known as Jotunheimen and the Jotun Nappe Complex.
Jotunheimen is home to the highest mountains in Norway. Galdhøpiggen reaches 2469 meters above sea level, while the ice capped Glittertind is just a few meters lower. The wildest and most jagged peaks in Jotunheimen can be found in the Hurrungane mountains, of which Store Skagastølstind (2403 masl) is the ‘King’ and the third highest mountain in Norway.
The largest glacier is called Smørstabbreen which covers approximately 15 km2 . The glaciers’ movements are of great interest to geologists and climate researchers. The bedrock around the mountains and glaciers creates amounts of looser and more mineral-rich rocks. The huge differences in height and the diversity of the bedrock and the climate create fertile soil that supports diverse vegetation.
The national park has many large lakes, with Gjende being the largest. Silty water from the glaciers give Gjende an emerald green color during the late summer. The deep blue Bessvatnet lake is located close by, 400 meters higher up. There is a waymarked trail running between the two lakes that passes over the narrow Besseggen – one of the most famous attractions in the Norwegian mountains. This is the place that inspired the poet Henrik Ibsen to write about Peer Gynt’s daring ride over the ‘Gjendin Ridge’ on the back of a reindeer stag.
Since the 1800s, Jotunheimen has been one of the most popular areas in the country for mountain hiking. Today, there are approximately 300 km of T-marked hiking routes in Jotunheimen and Utladalen, with the possibility of taking both short and long hikes. During the winter season, many places have staked ski trails. Many of the mountain peaks are suitable hiking destinations, but a good number of them require climbing skills to reach the top.
There are a number of serviced and unserviced tourist cabins both on the outskirts and inside the national park. Even though there can be many visitors at certain times of the year, you can still experience the freedom, the mystery, and the peace and quite of nature that outdoor life is built on. The peak season for hiking is during the second half of the summer period.
The Hurrungane mountains, furthest west in the national park, are a mecca for mountaineers. Here, visitors can enjoy both easy and very difficult climbing routes. The trip up to Store Skagastølstind is tough, long and difficult, and visitors are required to climb using climbing equipment and ropes.
Remember that walking over glaciers can be dangerous due to crevasses. When walking across glaciers, all visitors must ensure that they use ropes and other safety equipment, in addition to having knowledge of how to cross glaciers in a safe manner. There is also the possibility of booking a mountain guide. Several companies and hiking associations offer organized trips in the national park, both easy ski and hiking trips and more challenging alpine trips over glaciers and up mountains.
The serviced tourist cabins and the local tourist information offices can provide information about these kind of trips. There are many lakes and watercourses in Jotunheimen that offer good trout fishing, especially the larger lakes. Fish cultivation has taken place in many of the lakes and watercourses in this area. In order to hunt and fish in the national park, visitors must purchase a hunting and fishing license.
Approximately 75 species of breeding birds have been recorded in the national park, and Jotunheimen is an important area for various species of birds of prey. There are many lowland species of birds that nest in Utladalen’s dense deciduous forests, so the number of breeding species in Jotunheimen’s protected area is likely to be over 100 species.
Insects are vital for many species. They make up a large part of the creatures that live in the mountains.
A rich mountain flora
Approximately half of the national park has almost no vegetation and consists of rock, sediment, ice and snow. At slightly lower altitudes, hardy types of vegetation can be found that are typical of high mountain landscapes, such as heathland, shrubby tundra and vegetation that survives during long periods of snow cover.
Norway has an international responsibility to take care of its wild reindeer: Approximately 90 percent of the world’s wild tundra reindeer can be found here in Norway. More than any other animal, this high mountain species has adapted itself to low temperatures and barren pastures, and the herds constantly migrate between their grazing and calving areas throughout the year.
Domesticated reindeer husbandry in Jotunheimen
The domesticated reindeer herders in Lom and Vågå each have approximately 2400 animals in their winter herds. This means that there are many thousands of animals grazing in Jotunheimen and the surrounding area during the summer months. The domesticated reindeer are not particularly shy, and mountain hikers often get the chance to meet these beautiful animals in the mountains.
Show consideration if you meet reindeer while on a trip, do not disturb the animals unnecessarily. Remember to keep your dog on a leash.
Cultural landscape and history
The landscape shows traces of ancient hunting and trapping culture, where visitors can find animal pitfall traps and remnants of homesteads. In addition, the area has long traditions of pastoral grazing and mountain farming.
The Board of Jotunheimen National Park and Utladalen Protected Landscape has its own website.